Thomas Brown studied the selection inside a cooler at the Giant Eagle, carefully checking each row for just the right ingredient to use in his venison stew.
“I think the selection here is good,” Brown, 43, of Leetsdale, said recently after getting his first up-close look at the Leetsdale grocery’s latest offering – beer.
After years of choosing between a case of beer from a distributor or a six-pack from a bar, several Giant Eagle shoppers said they were pleased to have the freedom to shop for groceries and beer in one stop.
Brown hoped to make a Guinness stew, and said he found it quite helpful, in addition to spices and vegetables, that he could shop for beer in the same place.
“It’s very convenient,” he said.
Giant Eagle began selling beer in November after its permit was approved by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
As in other markets, said Victor Kimmel, spokesman for Giant Eagle, local customers have quickly come to appreciate the convenience.
“We are excited to bring this new offering to the Leetsdale Giant Eagle and it has been well received by our customers,” Kimmel said.
Giant Eagle underwent a major renovation, adding a new pharmacy drive through and produce section, as well as a separate cafe with indoor seating. Adjacent to the grocery section of the store, rows of beer and malt liquor stock the shelves carrying brands such as O’Fallon cherry chocolate, Pious Monk Dunkel and Red Stripe. They range from microbrews and craft beers to premium brands and Pittsburgh favorites like Yuengling, Iron City Light and the Church Brew Works. The grocery even carries organic and gluten-free beers.
Kimmel said the store offers more than 300 types of beers with national brands and seasonal offerings being the most popular with customers.
A long cooler keeps plenty of six-packs chilled, while a separate shelf of micro beers provides customers an even broader selection.
For many customers, “convenience” is the operative word.
Shopping after work on a recent Friday, Sharon Hayes of Leetsdale was able to grab beer and groceries before heading home after a long day. She said it was her first time purchasing beer at the store, and found the option quite convenient.
“It’s very convenient,” said Leslie Riker of Sewickley, when asked for her take on the beer. “I like that it’s here.”
In order for a grocery chain in Pennsylvania to sell beer, it must have a license for a separate café and beer must go through a separate checkout. Also separate is the store’s Fuelperks! program. In Pennsylvania, Kimmel said, stores are prohibited from awarding perks on alcohol purchases.
He said Giant Eagle’s policy is that everyone is asked for proof of age and signs are displayed stating that the store can refuse to serve anyone who is visibly intoxicated. Beer is also limited to two for on-site consumption if a customer is purchasing food to eat, and up to two six-packs for off-site consumption, Kimmel said.
Riker said she misses the former Quaker Village Beer Distributor that used to operate in the plaza. The distributor closed a year ago after operating as one of the original stores in the plaza beginning in the 1960s, according to borough officials.
But customer Steve Stabbe of Baden, who has lived in other states, said he prefers being able to pick up a six-pack. Stabbe said he believes Giant Eagle also has a better selection of microbrews than his local beer distributor.
“I used to say, ‘The commonwealth wants me to drink a full case,’” Stabbe said with a laugh.
Dennis Maddey, 60, of Ambridge, agreed.
"At the beer distributor, you have to buy a whole case," said Maddey, who browsed the cooler for new beers. Maddey settled on a Belgian-style ale, Three Philosophers. But this wasn’t his first time purchasing beer in the store.
“I’ve been here before,” he said. “I like it because they have a lot of different kinds of beers you would normally not see.”
But if for some reason you don’t see a beer you absolutely love, the store wants to know.
Kimmel said there are in-store beer leaders considered “the ambassadors” of the store’s offerings with the role of educating customers while also taking their feedback on beers.
“Similar to our approach throughout the store, we strive to offer our customers a variety of beers and customer feedback is very important to us.”
Surely, the beer selection won't be enough to please everyone. Customer Dan Couch, who is in his 80s, said he'd prefer a room temperature glass of Chianti over a cold glass of beer anyday.
"I drank beer when I was younger, but I was never crazy about it," said Couch of Baden. "The day they start making beer that tastes like wine, I'll drink it."